Staff Sgt. Kristy Van Lanen, a native of West De Pere, Wisc., talks to directors of a non-governmental organization at the Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad July 19, 2008. NGOs are helping improve the economic stability and education levels of their Iraqi communities through education and training. Photo by Sgt. James Hunter.
— Iraqis continue to take more of a lead within their communities, helping improve the economic stability and education levels of their Iraqi communities.
These Iraqis are a part of non-governmental organizations that gain funding through various agencies to fund facilities and training programs within their community.
NGOs work to get Iraqi citizens education and job skills leading to employment, said Staff Sgt. Kristy Van Lanen.
One way for them to gain funding is through the Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad, where citizens pitch their proposed project in hope it gets approved and funded by Coalition forces.
Nearly once a week, Van Lanen, meets with the director or assistant director of the various organizations at the IAC to discuss their intentions and what they plan to bring to the community.
Many of these organizations are headed by highly educated individuals with only one expectation in mind.
“Many of them are teachers or professors at local schools or universities,” Van Lanen said. “They are very intelligent and have a good idea of how to help the people in their community.”
Van Lanen, who serves with the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, has many proposals come across her desk, however, she declines those she doesn’t see as legitimate. However, most are genuine proposals focused on helping their Iraqi brethren.
While meeting at the assistance center, Soldiers and citizens with proposals talk about the focus, the cost and the circumstances surrounding the project.
Once she feels the NGOs have all their proposals in order, and a valid chance to make a positive change within northwest Baghdad, she sends the project application for approval to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
“I took the initiative to contact and work with local NGOs, because I feel they are a necessary step in improving the current conditions of Iraq,” said Van Lanen. “I believe that if we empower the women and young adults, we can make a difference here. However, we have to educate them and give them skills so that they may take a more active role in society. It is in this way that we will make Iraq a better place to live.”
There are many projects currently going on within 2nd Brigade’s area of operations, much in part to the endless effort of the NGOs.
According to Maj. Timothy Collier, the brigade’s civil affairs officer, the brigade is really trying to push NGOs into the very troubled spots – areas in which they feel problems exist.
“There’s a lack of opportunity in the city right now,” said Collier. “Through the recovery efforts there are jobs that are starting to filter out, the economy is starting to pick up, but it’s moving at a slow pace.”
However, the area is not at a situation right now where one can get a job anywhere, and where shops are continuously open, said Collier.
“The government of Iraq is still working through the rebuilding and the urban revitalization process that they definitely want to pursue,” Collier added. “We are looking at the NGOs to provide some economic employment opportunity and training to some people that right now may not have all the background.”
These projects are giving Iraqis the chance to explore employment opportunities and better their lives.
“[NGOs] really do see their neighbors in need and are really trying to do something and are pursuing this as a way to improve their situation and their neighbor’s situations,” Collier said.